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Pompeii: The life of a Roman town.: Public Entertainments

With the Vesuvius eruption on August 24, 69 AD, a Roman town was frozen in time, revealing the intimate side of a Roman citizen's life, from entertainment to homelife and personal religious expression.

Public entertainments

We are all familiar with gladiators and gladiator games in the Coliseum, but actually, chariot racing was a big deal in Rome. There were four main factions: Red, White, Blue, and Green and each faction had its own scouts to find the best riders and horses. Fans were passionately supportive of their factions and underneath the starting area, the archaeologists have found curse tablets against rival teams. The religion was Quid Pro Quo (see the tab about Pater Familias for that discussion), so the opposing team would request that a charioteer experience severe trials so they would not race. If you read the Curse Tablets of the Ancient World book, you will see some examples. Roman families had favorite teams and marrying someone who supported the wrong faction would barely be tolerated.

Charioteers were low caste but could become rich if they managed to stay alive (Romans really liked games with ultimate failures). Watch the Ben Hur chariot scene. Someone actually died on the set while the chariots were racing. The chariot races were staged at the Circus Maximus in Rome. The drivers and their teams of horses raced seven laps around a 2,000-foot-long sand track. They hit top speeds of 40 miles per hour and jostled wheel-to-wheel around hairpin turns. It was a lot more dangerous than it sounds, attendants would rush onto the track to clear the wreckage and injured driver as the race continued around them. They did 24 races in a day, depending on the festival. The winner of each race would get a palm branch, a wreath, and prize money.